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Electronic cigarette vapor alters the lateral structure but not tensiometric properties of calf lung surfactant

November 17, 2017
By Rebecca J. Przybyla, Jason Wright, Rajan Parthiban, Saeed Nazemidashtarjandi, Savas Kaya and Amir M. Farnoud

New study finds that e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes have different effects on surfactant lateral structures, with cigarette smoke disrupting surfactant interfacial properties.

Background: Despite their growing popularity, the potential respiratory toxicity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) remains largely unknown. One potential aspect of e-cigarette toxicity is the effect of e-cigarette vapor on lung surfactant function. Lung surfactant is a mixture of lipids and proteins that lines the alveolar region. The surfactant layer reduces the surface tension of the alveolar fluid, thereby playing a crucial role in lung stability. Due to their small size, particulates in e-cigarette vapor can penetrate the deep lungs and come into contact with the lung surfactant. The current study sought to examine the potential adverse effects of e-cigarette vapor and conventional cigarette smoke on lung surfactant interfacial properties.

Methods: Infasurf®, a clinically used and commercially available calf lung surfactant extract, was used as lung surfactant model. Infasurf® films were spread on top of an aqueous subphase in a Langmuir trough with smoke particulates from conventional cigarettes or vapor from different flavors of e-cigarettes dispersed in the subphase. Surfactant interfacial properties were measured in real-time upon surface compression while surfactant lateral structure after exposure to smoke or vapor was examined using atomic force microscopy (AFM).

Results: E-cigarette vapor regardless of the dose and flavoring of the e-liquid did not affect surfactant interfacial properties. In contrast, smoke from conventional cigarettes had a drastic, dose dependent effect on Infasurf® interfacial properties reducing the maximum surface pressure from 65.1 ± 0.2 mN/m to 46.1 ± 1.3 mN/m at the highest dose. Cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor both altered surfactant microstructure resulting in an increase in the area of lipid multilayers. Studies with individual smoke components revealed that tar was the smoke component most disruptive to surfactant function.

Conclusions: While both e-cigarette vapor and conventional cigarette smoke affect surfactant lateral structure, only cigarette smoke disrupts surfactant interfacial properties. The surfactant inhibitory compound in conventional cigarettes is tar, which is a product of burning and is thus absent in e-cigarette vapor.